Juneau trade group probes oceans with vessel tracking system

Program uses radio devices, satellite to monitor boat locations

Posted: Friday, December 30, 2005

The search for the Arctic Rose was a wake-up call for Juneau resident Ed Page.

For three days in April 2001, rescuers searched the Bering Sea for the Arctic Rose after the fishing boat relayed a single distress signal to his Coast Guard command center in Juneau.

It wasn't until July that year that rescuers recovered all 15 victims. It was one of the most notorious fishing disasters in Bering Sea history.

A 33-year-Coast Guard veteran, now retired from service, Page believed that there was a better way to track Alaska vessels.

About four years later, it turns out the ex-Coast Guardsman was right.

Page and a few other cohorts in Juneau who started up the Alaska Marine Exchange, a statewide maritime trade group, recently designed a real-time vessel monitoring program. It is the first of its kind in the United States.

The program, launched in December 2004, is quickly growing beyond Alaska.

With a combination of satellite tracking devices and radio signal stations, the Marine Exchange can track the progress of vessels - from tankers and tug boats to cruise ships and ferries - all over the world.

"Some day, this system will save lives," Page said Thursday in an interview at the Marine Exchange's command center near downtown Juneau.

The nonprofit Marine Exchange is widely exporting the Automated Secure Vessel Tracking System. Subscription costs $3 per day. Subscribers include members of other maritime trade groups in Boston, Norfolk, New Orleans, Houston and other U.S. ports.

So far, the Marine Exchange has generated a couple of hundred clients and perhaps more than 1,000 participating vessels, Page said.

At this point, the program isn't paying for itself but that's the eventual goal, he added.

Maritime trade groups - who once relied on telescopes to track their vessels - aren't the only ones are using the tracking program.

In Juneau, some kayakers and yachtsmen are using the Marine Exchange's technology for their lengthy trips.

For example, state worker Jessie Snyder is using the tracking program to monitor the progress of her Juneau parents, Chris and Louise, around the world. The couple is sailing on a 49-foot sloop, purchased in Turkey. They will eventually steer home to Juneau, Snyder said.

"It's definitely reassuring to know where they are, especially if they are out in the middle of the ocean," Snyder said.

By logging on with a password to the Marine Exchange's Web site, Snyder can find her parents' nautical position. On Thursday, they were located near the Canary Islands, off the African coast.

The Coast Guard and the Office of Naval Intelligence also collect information from the tracking program on a daily basis, Page said.

The Coast Guard is developing its own in-house tracking program, and some European companies, like PurpleFinder, have developed comparable technology, he said.

Cruise ships, Alaska state ferries and Valdez oil tankers also subscribe to the Marine Exchange's service, which costs $3 per day. To Page's chagrin, it hasn't caught on with Alaska's fishing fleet.

"We tried another (European) tracking system that we didn't like as much as this one," said Tom Colby, port manager for the Alaska Tanker Company, which operates British Petroleum's Valdez fleet of oil tankers.

"It just allows us, if we have any doubts, to see where our ships are," Colby said. "We're in constant phone, e-mail and radio contact, as needed," he added.

For now, at least, the Marine Exchange's tracking program is the only method Colby can use to track his vessels real-time on his computer screen.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-3028
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING